When it happens for the first time, John is frantic with worry, and fails to notice anything strange (or stranger than Sherlock himself, whose strangeness satisfies the need of anything strange in the three-mile radius). There had been another case, a chase and a villain and a struggle in the dead of the night, and his infuriating friend has received a crushing blow to the small of his back with a baseball bat.

John knows he should be grateful that there was apparently no severe damage to the spine. Sherlock is able to stand, but he is slouching down and forward like a man thrice his age; his face is chalky, his mouth has practically disappeared and his curls are glued to his forehead, wet with cold sweat. It's a terrible sight, to see him defeated by pain and robbed of his imperious presence, and John has to clench his teeth in order to stop his hands and his mouth (touch his face kiss his forehead kill the arsonist who escaped sherlock sherlock you will be fine you have to be fine because what happens to the world if you are not fine?), but he cannot stop his mind. He has one arm wrapped around Sherlock, who is holding on to his shoulders with desperate strength and dragging his feet behind him, so John is more or less supporting his entire weight. There are maybe fifty paces left to the door of the hospital, and it seems like a thousand miles of a desert.

"Hold on here, mate," he says, his voice barely squeezing through his tightened throat, and pats Sherlock's chest. "Almost there."

"A blow to my back is not detrimental to my sight, thank you very much," Sherlock mumbles, staring forward with glassy eyes.

John chokes back a hysterical giggle. His jaw hurts from clenching his teeth in order to keep himself in check, and he is quite tempted to thank God he doesn't believe in when that finally stumble through the automatic door into a bright, warm hallway.

From then on, it's a whirl of activity. Two nurses take Sherlock off of his shoulders and for a confusing moment, he is mourning the loss of heat and rare (so rare it's inhuman, it hurts but he won't think about it) contact with his friend; then, he is following a gourney with Sherlock on it, lying on his stomach and clenching the sterile sheet between his bony fingers. "Sherlock," he says hoarsely, walking beside the gourney beside the gourney.

The great detective only screws his eyes shut and shakes his head a little. John has to bite his tongue again.

Somewhat, he manages to tell the nurse he is a doctor, and walks into the ER after Sherlock. There, he parks himself next to the nurse who is aiming a pair of medical shears at Sherlock's coat.

"No, don't," he hears himself say, and nurse throws him a weird look, but allows him to assist her with removing the garment from Sherlock's long arms. John is as far from a fashion freak as they make them, but his friend treats the beloved Belstaff coat with tender affection other people bestow upon their cats and dogs; and John just doesn't want Sherlock to open his eyes and discover his coat has been destroyed in the name of 'transport's' health.

Once the coat is off, John folds it and holds it in his arms like a sleeping animal, while the nurse is cutting open the suit jacket. When she gets started on the shirt, though, Sherlock slaps her hand away and opens his eyes. "John?"

John snatches up his hand and grips it as tight as he dares. "I'm here. You are going to be fine, you hear me?"

Sherlock is crazy enough to crack a twitchy, crumpled smile. "Well, of course," he rasps. "I am always fine. But you, doctor, look ready to collapse."

John considers being insulted, but he supposes he can let it go this time. "I'm fine."

"No, you are not." Sherlock slaps nurse's hands away again and lifts his head a little. "Would someone please take care of the noble doctor over here?" he inquires, and somewhat, miraculously, still manages to scowl. His voice may be beaten by pain, but it still carries across the room. "Get him a blanket and a chair, if you wouldn't mind."

"Sherlock, you really should learn how to be a patient, you know. " But John is smiling, and he can't help it. It is nice to see that Sherlock cares, even if it is completely unnecessary. "I am not going anywhere, though."

But then, there is a nurse at his side, showing a cup of steaming tea into his perfectly steady hands and tugging him towards the nearest chair, standing by the wall off to the side, and Sherlock has the audacity to roll his eyes, the insufferable bastard. "Just go and sit down, John. You just carried me halfway across the city."

John wants to point out that he did not carry him, and that it was only a street or two, but once the chair is behind him, his legs give out on their own accord. He slumps against the wall and watches from afar the nurse cutting Sherlock's white shirt open and administering a healthy dose of painkillers, and if there is a faint white gleam on his friend's slender back, it is gone when John blinks, just a trick of light and sweat on the white skin.

The second time is so swift and stealthy, John doesn't even think about it until much, much later.

It has been two days since Sherlock got hurt, and he managed to terrorize the whole staff into letting him go. Now, the two of them are in a cab that is on its way to the Baker Street; and Sherlock has haughtily permitted himself to lay down on his left side and lean his cheek on John's thigh, in order to keep pressure from his back.

The diagnose could have been much, much worse, John knows, but it is still freaking him out - only a couple of inches higher and his brilliant friend would never have walked again. But instead, there is a crack in the right side of his pelvis, some torn muscle tissue and an enormous, frighteningly looking bruise. There will be no dashing about for at least two weeks, and John is already afraid how on Earth is he going to convince Sherlock to remain mostly still for the next few days.

The cab hits a raised cobblestone in the road and jumps a little; in John's lap, Sherlock inhales sharply and his jaw tightens. John isn't thinking when he raises his hand and pushes it into the dark mess of curls.

But Sherlock exhales slowly and presses his head into John's hand, not unlike a cat seeking warmth. John ignores the way his stomach is clenching and unclenching, and runs his fingers through Sherlock's hair, which is even softer than it looks.

"There will be no running around for two weeks at least," he tells his friend. "I hope we are clear on that." Sherlock only grunts something incomprehensible.

"I mean it, you brilliant lunatic. I'll have you know that I have a set of good quality medical restraints at home, and if I have to, I will use them." John scratches his nails across Sherlock's scalp and Sherlock almost purrs. John has never seen him more compliant. It is definitely useful information.

"As long as you don't start treating me as a handicapped man and offering to assist me with showering, you are welcome to restrain me," Sherlock informs him in a sleepy voice, and John has to laugh.

The third time, John is beyond logical thinking, but he does take notice. He is just too busy to care or ask questions or think about it.

Three months passed since the baseball bat and for the past week, there has been a case. Old, distinguished wine collector who took his passion too far; started kidnapping strangers and taking them home, where he cut their arteries and drained their bodies of blood. He kept the blood in the wine bottles, each one labelled and sealed with wax just like antique wine, and lined up on the bottle holders in his cellar. To all the world, the man was just a wine collector, albeit with an extensive collection. He was choosing his victims with care, taking only the ones who were born on the same year as the wine he had drunk and then replaced it with human's blood - or so Sherlock deduced. Met is still running analysis, but John has learned to trust Sherlock's words.

The man was creative and clever killer, and Sherlock was delighted. He managed to persuade Lestrade to let John and him go into the house first, and really, John wasn't expecting any trouble, since the murderer was more than seventy years old. But the house was a dark, echoing monster from Victorian times, looming on the outskirts of London, and when the killer was nowhere to be found, they agreed to split up. After five minutes of creeping along the shadowy hallways, John walked upon Sherlock's unconscious body on the floor. When he kneeled down, thoughtless with worry, there was a shuffle behind his back. John turned around and shoot the tall, thin man with a chloroform-dripping rag in his hand in the knee.

It was unreasonable, since Mr. Benjamin Rourke was old and fragile and could have been knocked unconscious with one punch, which is what Sherlock would have done, if the man didn't sneak up on him from behind his back. But after the pool and Moriarty and baseball bat, the thought of anyone hurting Sherlock makes John physically ill.

Being drugged with chloroform apparently doesn't tamper down Sherlock's enthusiasm, and after he has woken up and Rourke is fixed with a tourniquet and clapped in handcuffs and led away by Donovan, he goes on to find the infamous cellar. There, John stands in the damp coldness and watches Sherlock slowly turning around with shinning eyes.

"Elegant," he whispers. "Elegant."

It is rather elegant, Jon has to admit, in a shiver-inducing, quietly terrifying way. He is almost jealous of the serial killer who managed to charm Sherlock so thoroughly.

But when the door of 221b closes behind them, Sherlock wordlessly pushes John against the wall. John's heart and thoughts stumble, stutter and finally, he swallows and looks up, into his friend's silvery eyes.

Sherlock stares back with a curiously blank face, until, at last, he speaks. "You didn't have to shoot him."

John shakes his head, because he honestly doesn't trust his words right now.

His brilliant, brilliant friend smiles; it's one of his rare true smiles, open and warm, bright as springtime sunshine. "Is there anything you wouldn't do for me, John?" he demands, childlike amazement colouring his eyes.

John looks away and swallows thickly. He shakes his head, once.

There is silence, stretching on and on like sticky, sharp smelling glue, and when it becomes too long, John steels himself and looks up. Sherlock's eyes are closed and he is still smiling, and like someone who's delirious he bends his head and fits his mouth against John's.

It's soft and swift, like a bird's feather. It is also unbearably gentle, making every single bone in John's body shudder. Most of all, it's over far too quickly.

Sherlock straightens up and John blinks at him, dazed beyond words. In the strange, hazy dreams he has every now and then (every night, every single night, and it is going to drive him crazy), Sherlock always kisses him in the middle of a case or right after the end of it, wild-eyed and beautiful and blindingly brilliant, because John cannot imagine any other time when Sherlock could be in a better mood - more drunk on the adrenaline and his own cleverness, more happy with life. So the time is right. But John also dreams that Sherlock's kisses are hard and demanding and almost cruel, and this unexpected gentleness breaks him down completely, bites into his heart and makes it ache.

Sherlock is chewing his bottom lip and staring at him with something strangely like fear in his bright eyes, and before he can think, John is taking hold of Sherlock's shirt and pulling him in for a kiss.

Somewhere in the pit of his stomach, John had been afraid that Sherlock would turn out to be cold, impersonal and logical about this, this messy carnal business, but he couldn't have been more wrong. This time, Sherlock kisses him with reckless excitement, with all the adrenaline of a solved case behind it. His tongue is clever, just as clever as it sounds, sneaking into John's mouth and brushing against the roof of his mouth until John has clouds of white stars swimming behind his closed eyes. There is a moan climbing up his throat and spilling into the heated space between their lips, the sound of it hot and desperate and and shivering; Sherlock swallows it down with a sound of his own, a quiet, high-pitched whine that has John clawing at his friend's shirt. He kisses back, biting into the heart-wrenchingly soft bottom lip and sliding his hands under the aubergine silk, reaching up Sherlock's back and shuddering at the feel of hot, smooth skin with long, serpentine muscles underneath.

And that's when Sherlock groans like a man dying, grabbing John's wrists and pushing his hands down, down, down under the black trousers, until they are cupping his buttocks, and John loses it completely.

Sherlock has somewhat managed to open both his and John's trousers and wrapping a palm around their cocks, and really, it doesn't take long before they are both dying a little death, with Sherlock's teeth sunk in John's neck and John's short nails digging into his friend's arse.

The fourth time is half an hour or so later, and it takes place in John's bedroom, because the rough, hurried wank in the hallway has barely taken the edge off; but all the same, this time John most definitely does take notice.

Sherlock is sprawled on his bed, panting and flushed and so, so warm; and John is taking off his clothes, one item at the time. Worshipping each revealed inch of pale flesh seems the only acceptable way; what he is planning is giving Sherlock a blowjob of his life, but he really just wants to get him naked first. The only thing left obscuring Sherlock's body is the unbuttoned shirt and the contrast between the shiny dark silk and prettily flushed skin is breathtaking, but what John wants is the endless foreign land of skin, completely exposed for his eyes and hands and tongue.

But when he tries to push the shirt off of his shoulders, Sherlock pulls his hands away. "The shirt stays." His voice has gone low and rough and scarlet, and it's doing terrible things to John's entire body.

All the same, he finally realizes that he has yet to see or touch the bare skin of Sherlock's back; indeed, he has never ever seen the man's back in all the months they had been living together. Just half an hour earlier, Sherlock has prevented him from touching his back. It is just a little bit too weird for John to let it go. "Okay," he says, very carefully weighing his words. "Can you tell me why?"

"Because I don't want you to see or touch the bare skin of my upper back." If Sherlock was any less of a grammar freak, he would say 'duh'.

"Yes, I gathered that," John snaps, palms itching to touch and grip and stroke, arousal making his words harsher than he'd intended. "What I want to know is what have I done to earn such mistrust from you."

Sherlock's sharp eyes soften a bit. "There is no part of me, however crucial it may be, that I don't trust you with," he says, voice unexpectedly tender, and lays his long fingers on John's cheek. "Otherwise I wouldn't be here right now. You do not hesitate when killing a man for me; do us both now a favour that is just as great, and don't press this issue."

Something inside John is helplessly melting down and oozing through his skin, warm and yearning, stretching itself towards Sherlock, who seems terrifyingly vulnerable, bare and raw, stripped down to the bones. And that is when John decides that the shirt really doesn't do a thing to cover Sherlock's soul, now when he is cracked open and laid out before him like this; and one little patch of skin is not relevant to the entirety of Sherlock's being that is being offered to John.

Even though John was adamant about not doing it this night, he ends up buried in Sherlock until he can barely breathe, convinced the sheer heat of his friend's body is going to burn him alive. They make love with a slow intensity that is bordering on painful, and afterwards, John discovers that Sherlock is not above cuddling, especially when he is exhausted from pleasure, drowsy and clingy like a particularly amorous cat. They sleep, tangled together under the covers; and when John wakes up once during the night, he doesn't grab the opportunity of exploring the forbidden land of Sherlock's back. He presses his mouth into the dark curls and goes back to sleep.

John isn't complaining.

Against all his expectations, Sherlock is turning out to be quite a magnificent lover. He may be far from experienced, but he is endlessly enthusiastic and relentlessly attentive and - what surprises John the most - seems to yearn for physical contact all the time, even when on a case. John is more than happy to oblige.

John supposes he could have foreseen it, what with the violin and silk shirts and Sherlock's apparent love for all fine things, but his friend (not friend but lover, and his, all his) is proving to be a curious sort of a sensualist; and just like he looks at the world, Sherlock makes love with everything he has, all of his impeccable five senses, his entire body and beautiful, brilliant mind completely absorbed in John. With Sherlock, entire human body becomes an erogenous zone. He nuzzles John's hair, he bites John's armpits and knees and elbows, he counts his pulse with his tongue against John's neck and wrists and the inside of John's thigh; he pushes John against the wall, kneeling down and alternating between open-mouthed kisses on his cock and then his quivering belly, gasping wetly against the John's skin while working him with his hands and whispering an unending prayer of beautiful things that make John's heart stutter (you have banished London's fog, John, John, promise you'll never leave me) and filthy, filthy things that make him tremble and moan (I want you to fuck me until I cannot breathe, I want to feel it for days). It makes John dizzy just to think of all that magnificent attention turned just at him. And frankly, Sherlock seems to be devoting an absurd amount of his time to trying to drive John crazy.

There is a bottle of insanely expensive Shiraz standing on the bookshelf that Sherlock nicked from Rourke's collection. One evening, they open it and drink one glass each, and end up with John's sprawled all over the carped, shaking and sweating and cursing while Sherlock drips the exquisite alcohol with a lab pipette in John's mouth and licks it off, and on John's back and licks it off, and finally between John's buttocks and licking it off until John has to bite down on his discarded shirt to keep himself from screaming, while Sherlock is whispering about how the taste of wine seems stronger because of the body heat and telling John about the gold sparks of light, caught in the wetly glistening skin.

There were other insane times as well, for example when John got impatient and pushed Sherlock into a dark alley, kneeling on the dirty cobblestones and swallowing Sherlock's cock, and Sherlock clutched John's hair in his fists and came so hard there were tears on his cheeks by the time John stood up; and Sherlock begged so desperately John simply couldn't refuse and ended fucking Sherlock up against the rough, damp wall like a man possessed, with barely any preparation and having completely forgotten that just around the corner, there was Lestrade with his team, and that they had to have heard Sherlock screaming.

And then, there was this one time John still cannot think about, because it makes his completely useless for at least a couple of hours. It was a rare day of clear skies, the sunlight piercing the sitting room of 221b with two diagonal pillars of gold. Sherlock, who was sitting on the floor in the patch of sunlight, pulled John down to him and and kissed him long and sweet and achingly tender. They ended up making love on their knees on the carpet in front of the unlit fireplace, Sherlock straddling John's lap. The air was thick with golden light and their hitched gasps and sighs, sweet like summer honey, and their movements seemed slower somehow, every touch almost painfully pleasurable like in a feverish dream. Sherlock was, for once, completely silent, writhing slowly in John's arms and tracing the edges of shadows on John's body; he had golden butterflies of light in his the night-land of his hair and his lust-darkened eyes; John licked and nuzzled and bit at his sweaty, illuminated skin that seemed lighted up from inside and thought that Sherlock in his white silk shirt looked like a statue half done, half still buried in the marble. Sherlock came first with his back arched like a cathedral's ceiling and his breath leaving him in a long, shuddering exhale, and when John followed him, it truly felt like a little death, falling down down down into heavens and then coming back to life with Sherlock's muttering 'John, John, my John' against his ear.

A month goes by, then another and another, and John really isn't complaining. Quite the opposite, in fact: he cannot remember ever being so insanely happy. Ever. He loves how the concept of personal space has vanished between them; he loves that he is now allowed - hell, required - to watch and touch and kiss and love with all his might. He loves that now he has legitimate right to tell Anderson to piss off, when the head of forensics starts to insult Sherlock; he loves how Sherlock seems to sleep more just for the sake of being intertwined with John under the covers; and he loves how Sherlock wakes up, clawing at John with sleep-weakened hands and nuzzling into his neck like a cat seeking warmth. He loves how Sherlock straightens up almost imperceptibly when John looks at him; he loves the way the man wears his madness of dark curls like a king of the night would wear his crown of darkness, how he wears his sparkling eyes like women wear diamonds.

He even got used to the shirts and no-touching-Sherlock's-back rule; because frankly, Sherlock looks ridiculously desirable only in his unbuttoned shirt with sleeves rolled up, always from shiny, luxurious silk that comes alive under John's fingers and in colours that set off his pale skin perfectly - dark violet, deep cobalt blue, emerald green that makes his eyes snakelike and dangerous, midnight black that makes him look like an angel made from snow, translucent ivory white that seems like a part of his long body.

In short, John loves Sherlock, has always loved him, so much that it scares him sometimes. It makes his knees shake and his heart ache; he tells Sherlock that he loves him as often as he dares without the danger of being pathetic, and it still doesn't seem enough, because really, how do you explain to a person that you want to crawl inside of them and live in their ribcage?

John won't admit it, but the shirts are starting to bother him. They are not that obtrusive physically; what gnaws at John is that Sherlock has seen all of him, all the ugly bits of his body and all the shadowy corners of his mind John is not proud of, and still hides one little part of himself away from John.

That is also why he starts thinking what could possibly be taking place on Sherlock's back that must stay hidden from John. Whatever it is, he is forbidden from seeing and touching it directly, but he can do as he pleases as long as there is some kind of cloth between it and his hands. This means it is something that can be recognised by sight or touch.

He dismisses the possibility of some skin disease immediately; that would be the last think Sherlock would bother hiding from a doctor. The next thing that comes to his mind is a tattoo, but then again, John would never be able to spot a tattoo by his touch alone. Then, he catches sight of his old shoulder wound one day when undressing. He rolls the thought around in his head a while; it seems bewildering, since Sherlock has developed quite an impressive love for John's battle scars. If he likes John's scars, why would he bother to hide his own?

Still, John puts the scar theory on top of the list and starts thinking for real. There are many kinds of scars; it seems unlikely that Sherlock would want to hide a surgical scar or one from an ordinary injury. That's when John's mind makes an unpleasant turn. There are scars that imply a good deal of trauma and pain: whip marks, cigarette burns, human bites, chemical burns. Every scar has a story behind it, John knows; but not all of them are good and noble and something to be proud of. Some of them are just bitter remainders of agony and shame and stupidity and human cruelness. Some scars are considered shameful and ugly and John knows that if there is a scar on Sherlock's back, that is exactly how Sherlock's thinks about it.

John knows he will eventually have to put his foot down and demand the truth from Sherlock, but knowing doesn't make it easy. There are many ways to do it. He can try to lure the truth out of Sherlock, but since the man is practically a mind reader, John decides it would be better to ask without pretenses. When and how remain another matter entirely.

In the end, John decides to do it swiftly, like pulling a gauze that has stuck to the wound. Still, there are people who have better words than John. One evening after a case, he picks up the carefully prepared book and walks up to Sherlock who is sitting on the sofa, absorbed in John's laptop.

"We must talk," John tells him. "But first, you have to read something. Just the first page."

Sherlock glances at the book and lifts an eyebrow at John, before he takes it and opens it on the first page. John sits down besides him and Sherlock immediately lifts his legs and places them across his lap. John automatically puts his completely steady hand on black-clad knee.

It doesn't take long for Sherlock to snort in disbelief and mutter a low 'Well done'.

"Thank you." John pulls the book out of Sherlock's hands and finds the passage almost immediately; he must have read it a hundred times when he was reading the book after being sent home from Afganistan. "'Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when a word is made flesh. It's easy to display a wound, the proud scars of combat. It is hard to show a pimple.'" John closes the book and puts it down, still savouring the raw words on his tongue.

Carefully, he looks at Sherlock, who meets his eyes with a cold stare. "I believe you agreed not to press the matter," Sherlock says, his voice blank and even.

"Yes, but that was three months ago." John is taking care with choosing each and every word. "Sherlock, a scar is nothing to be ashamed of. I have scars, and you love them, you said so yourself. It doesn't matter how your scar looks to me. I hope you are not afraid I would find you less desirable if I saw it?"

"Please, doctor. The words you gave me to read are very intelligent, but apparently you cannot truly comprehend them." Sherlock removes his legs from John's lap and stands up to pace around, and John instantly feels colder. "A battle wound is the one that is easy to show. But my scar is not proud or of combat. It is a pimple. One does not go around showing a disgusting, pus-filled pimple, not even to a hardened doctor like you."

"But it doesn't matter to me," John pleads, his heart clenching painfully, because Sherlock has just confirmed John's worst fears.

"It matters to me," Sherlock tells him, and his voice is cold and brittle like shards of ice, his face bloodless. "My scar, or shall we say scars are a remainder of my own stupidity, predictable cruelty and unimaginative thinking of some people. That is why I refused plastic surgery Mycroft suggested."

John thinks this over, all the while trying to ignore the fact that apparently, something terrible had happened to Sherlock, who is still wearing souvenirs from it on his back. "If they are only something you kept to remind you of this one mistake you made years ago, why won't you show them to me?"

Sherlock laughs, and it is a ripped, horrible sound, hollow and black. "Because the forming of a pimple may have been cruel and predictable," he says, facing away from John, "but the pus in it is real."

John feels a chill going up his back. Somehow, Sherlock thinks he deserves whatever it is that has been put on his back, and that thought alone makes John sick to the stomach. "You are not ever going to show them to me, are you?"


John screws his eyes shut for a moment, then opens them again. "At least tell me what they look like." He is begging, and he doesn't care.


"For God's sake, why not?" he cries out.

"Because then you'll see the pus." Sherlock is whiter than a ghost. "You'll see what I really am, John. And then you'll leave me."

John wants to be cruel, to shout stupid things (I am going to leave you right now if you don't allow me to clean this infested wound that is keeping you in so much pain, and I cannot bear to see you in pain, you idiot, idiot man), but while he can shoot a man in cold blood, he cannot be cruel. He just doesn't have it in him to be cruel to anybody, especially Sherlock, who he loves to the point of being sick with love for him sometimes.

Everything in John is screaming to go to Sherlock, put his arms around him and kiss him and tell him he isn't going to leave him, not ever (he cannot live without Sherlock anymore, how could he ever even think of leaving him?); but pus-filled pimples have to be squeezed and disinfected, if they are expected to heal. John knows this; Sherlock doesn't want to know it. Sherlock disregards his health to the point of being a lethal danger to himself, and this time, John decides he loves him too much to let this go on any longer.

"You leave me no choice, Sherlock," John tells him in a steady voice and stands up.

Sherlock's desperate, dread-filled eyes follow him when he is putting on his coat and his shoes. John walks out and closes the door quietly behind himself; he descends the seventeen steps and walks out into the night.

John really isn't surprised when he is told by Anthea - who is now Diana - that Mycroft is still in his office, even though it's already past ten in the evening. If he would have to point out the three most profound characteristics that the two brothers share, John would choose the following: intelligence, stubbornness and the absolute disregard for humane work-hours.

When John knocks on the heavy door, that voice that always seems smug no matter what it's saying invites him in. Mycroft is sitting behind his massive desk, poring over some very classified-looking documents, and lifts his head with a tight smile when John steps in.

"Good evening, John. Did your cab have any difficulties getting here? It took you a bit longer than I expected."

Bugs in the flat and CCTV. Of course. John is quite proud that he is getting so used to the Holmeses that his mouth doesn't fall open anymore. "Good," he says. "Then I don't have to explain why I'm here."

Mycroft nods slowly, his eyes and face completely blank, and wordlessly gestures to the chair in fromt of his desk. When John sits down, Mycroft leans forward and fixes John with a grey stare. "What is your investment in your relationship with my brother?"

John knows he should be startled, but he has been expecting The Big Brother speech for three months now. That summer morning after Rourke's case Mycroft showed up at the 221b with some government-related case Sherlock didn't want to take, took one look at the two of them sitting at the kitchen table and smirked - he actually smirked, and when he walked out, a careless 'Congratulations' could be heard. There is no point trying to hide anything before either of the Holmes brothers, and now, John is only surprised that the 'Hurt my brother and I'll make you disappear from the face of the Earth and wiped out every single proof that you ever existed' speech didn't come earlier.

Either way, John can only tell Mycroft the truth. "I think he is a lunatic," he says, "and I probably won't have a moment of peace in my life again. But he is also the best damn thing that ever happened to me. I would kill for him and more importantly, I would die for him. The first I have already done, as I suspect you know; and if it will ever be necessary, I will be honoured to do the second as well."

Mycroft doesn't say anything for at least a minute; he just sits there, piercing John with his merciless eyes. John stares back and cannot help but notice that Mycroft has the eyes of the same strange silvery green-grey as his brother, only a shade of two darker.

At last, Mycroft's face softens a bit, and he smiles. This time, it is a genuine smile, and John finally permits himself to relax just a bit.

But then, Mycroft is opening a drawer and pulling out an unmarked, unassuming, hospital-green file and handing the said file across the desk to John. "Take your time," he says.

John opens the file like cutting the skin with the scalpel (slow and sure, professor told him a million years ago in the class, but you mustn't hesitate, Watson, never hesitate, and never permit your hand to shake) and is confronted with a police report. Written in Lestrade's impatient scrawl, he notices, and the uneasiness in him is flaring up like a forest fire, higher and higher, while he reads through the report.

A kidnapping, some five odd years ago; the last one in the row. The victim: one Sherlock Holmes who claimed to be some sort of private detective and investigating the row of rape and torture kidnappings. In order to catch the killer, he let himself be kidnapped as well. Thanks to that, three days later the killer had been caught and Sherlock himself rescued, but he had been severely injured.

John has to stop here and look away; he gulps for air like a man about to dive under the water, and goes on to the hospital report, which is the next thing in the file. The medical terminology is too deeply ingrained in his brain to ever forget it, and now, this brain processes it all automatically, but in John's mind it all mixes up into a sickening rumble. Only a couple of phrases stand out; broken fingers and ribs, concussion, infected knife wounds on the back. Rape trauma.

That's where John stops reading, because for a moment, he is certain he is going to throw up all over Mycroft's expensive Persian carpet. He takes a few deep breaths and goes on to the last thing in the file, which is a stack of three photos; most likely taken by Mycroft's people, because they lack the recognizable look of police photos.

In the first one, there is Sherlock, looking terrifyingly small and thin and vulnerable in a hospital bed, unconscious or just sleeping tightly; he is covered in bruises, has a broken nose and his left hand and head are bandaged. Then, an old and dingy cellar without even the smallest window; in one corner, there is a pile of torn rope and silver tape on the concrete floor, next to a dark spot of that sickening crumbly gleam of a dried blood. And the last photo in the file is a close-up of a male upper back, and John has no trouble recognising the pallor of the skin and the beautiful curve of the shoulders. But there are angry red cuts marring the skin. The doctor in John has no trouble spotting the tell-tale reddened skin around them and white glistening of pus inside the wounds - they had probably been made with a dull, probably even rusty blade. These are the kind of wounds that despite their shallowness take forever to heal and almost always leave scars. That is what the doctor Watson sees, but all John can see is that the cuts are in fact letters, five shaky letters, forming the word that stretches from one shoulder to another: FREAK.

It is very quiet and still in John's head. A tiny, choked voice is lamenting over the fact that his first glimpse of Sherlock's painfully beautiful back had to be like this; its squealing is weakly echoing in the ringing silence. Then, there is cold, crystal-clear fury.

Mycroft's hands are gently taking the file out of John's hands. "It may be of your interest that I have personally seen that the appropriate retaliation had been made. Steven Holden has been taken care of five years ago."

"Is he still alive?" John hears himself speak.

Mycroft smiles, and it's thin and hard and sharp like a steel blade. "Oh, yes. He is a resident of Edinburgh's Central Psychiatric Hospital. Every now and then, I have tea with his doctor. I am pleased to report that Mr. Holden suffers from severe mental instability and continuous nightmares."

John smiles back, baring his teeth like a wolf.

"John," Mycroft has said when John was leaving, "dying for Sherlock is something I strongly advise you against. I am quite sure your death would be his as well, so the whole affair would be quite pointless. As far as my brother and myself are concerned, you are not allowed to die, John Watson. Period."

These are the words John hangs on to the whole ride back to keep himself from going crazy. He doesn't have the slightest idea how to approach the matter with Sherlock, even if he now has the necessary information. When he comes home, though, Sherlock is lying on his front on the sofa, his head buried in the pillows, and he doesn't move when John walks through the door.

He doesn't believe for a moment that Sherlock might be asleep; he walks to the sofa, kneels down and pushes his hand in Sherlock's hair.

Sherlock turns his head immediately and stares at John with bloodshot eyes. "I thought I was hallucinating," he tells him hoarsely. "I heard your steps, but I thought I was hallucinating. Why did you come back, John?"

John can only gape for a moment. "You are completely bonkers, you know that? Christ, Sherlock, you didn't actually think I would leave you just like that, did you?"

"Leaving me is far more sensible option than staying with me," Sherlock mutters, looking away.

For a moment, John doesn't care one little bit that they are lovers; he just wants to punch the man really hard. "I love you, you idiot," he snaps and sits on the sofa, so he can pull upper half of Sherlock's body into his lap. "I love you, and you'll have to kill me to make me stop."

Sherlock wordlessly wraps his arms around John's middle and pushes his face against John's stomach. He is shivering, and John sighs and leans forward to bury his nose against Sherlock's shoulder. "I went to Mycroft," he tells him silently, and ignores the way Sherlock's body stiffens. "Why didn't you just tell me? Don't you think I have a right to know about such things?"

Sherlock shakes John off and stands up, eyes flashing and murderous. "Because I have no patience for what is going through your mind right now!" he hisses, hands clenched in fists. "Do you really believe I cannot see it, John, all displayed on your face? You are thinking that I cannot possibly have a healthy relationship with you because I must still be traumatized. You are even wondering if I am a masochist for still enjoying rough intercourse or if I am using it in some bizarre way to punish myself for my stupidity!"

John opens his mouth, then promptly closes it again. There is no denying that he has been thinking about all of that ever since he saw that ghastly file, and he knows that Sherlock knows it.

Sherlock is still shaking, but now from simple fury that is twisting his sharp face into something almost inhuman. "I am well aware that your brain is sadly feeble, but all the same - let me at least attempt to explain something to you, John. I have told you again and again that my flesh is nothing more than transport. I can take pleasure in carnal business - when I chose to do so. Yes, I have willingly put myself in the hands of a serial rapist and torturer, because for me, a rape is no more than a body injury that heals like any other. God knows I tried my best to imitate fear and pain, but Steven Holden was quite an expert in his trade. When he couldn't get any enjoyment out of me, he marked me as a freak, the way everyone thinks of me, and left me on my back in the dirt of that cellar, and in three days the wounds festered. Lestrade got one more notch in his belt and I got a permanent agreement with him and a couple of scars on my back, a small memento of my own stupidity. God knows I've never underestimated a criminal again." He stares at John with poison-soaked face. "Right now, you are probably thinking that I deserve what I'm carrying on my shoulders, aren't you? You are wondering what possible kind of horrible sociopath doesn't get traumatised by rape and torture!"

This, at last, is something John can deny with all his heart. And even though his head is spinning from everything he's just heard (and now it makes so much sense, everything fits together so much better now), he blinks the fog away and forces himself to remain calm. He crosses his arms and legs and cocks his head to the side. "No," he says.

Sherlock freezes in between two breaths, some venom draining from his eyes. "No?"

"No," John repeats. "I am thinking that it makes sense in a strange, bizarre way, and that you are even more brilliant than I thought you are. I am also thinking you are a fucking fool for not telling me earlier. Also, I am considering being insulted for being compared to the rest of the small-minded, oblivious bastards that ever made you believe you are a freak, but that can wait." Then, he feels a grin pulling at his face, and even though it might be an inappropriate time, he lets it out, lets it almost split his face, because this is Sherlock and who the hell cares about the conventionality anyway?

But then, Sherlock is crumbling down like a shattered ice statue and covering his face with his hands, and John doesn't waste a second thinking about it. He is kneeling down before he can even wipe the grin off of his face, pulling Sherlock to him and holding him as tight as he dares without fear of breaking a bone.

"I love you," Sherlock whispers miserably, and there are tears on John's neck. "I love you."

John presses his mouth against the smoke-coloured curls and closes his eyes, sighing in relief. The wound has been cleaned, the pimple squeezed and disinfected. And even though he is holding a human-shaped storm in his arms, John has never been more sure that everything is going to be just fine in his world.

Several weeks pass. John is slowly coming to terms with the fact that this - this amazing, painful, electric feeling that is loving Sherlock Holmes - is going to last. This is from the same substance the foundations of the Earth are built from. This is going to outlive them both. It scares the living daylights out of him, if he is being completely honest with himself.

It seems that there are many things to learn about love, and not all of them are pleasant. John has always expected to find a nice woman, have children with her and live his days in peace and sunshine. It turns out there is little that is sunny or simply pleasant about love.

Love, it turns out, isn't happiness. It is something that is a definition of itself and nothing else.

And with Sherlock, scars on his back are not by far the only demon he keeps inside his mind. There are days when love is screaming and broken chemical equipment and then a rough fuck in the inky darkness, when John allows himself to be defeated and held down and loved to the point of choking on it. There are other days when love is John being an exorcist; Sherlock biting the pillows or discarded clothes to keep from shouting the walls down as John pounds into him, mindless with desire. And there are days when love is thick silence and averted glances.

But nevertheless, it is always love. A mind-numbing kiss next to the bloodied and mutilated corpse. A scarf, wrapped around John's neck, still warm from Sherlock's body. Making love in the afternoon sunlight that turns the world into a golden cave. Love is John, slowly peeling shirts from Sherlock's back and following the lines of scars with his tongue. The quiet evenings on the sofa, with Chinese takeaway and Sherlock being - every now and then - calm and silent and holding on to John with an iron grip.

And more than everything else, love is a terrifying addiction John never wants to be free of.

Time passes and passes and passes, and it is summer again. There is a case and Sherlock jumping in the Thames to catch a fleeing suspect, and when they pull him out, he takes his soaked shirt off and kisses John on the sunlit riverbank, laughing all the time.

Behind Sherlock's back, there is Donovan, sneering about something, and then, she suddenly goes very silent.

When there is the next case, Donovan smiles at Sherlock, and even if it is a bit tight, it is still a smile. "Hello, weirdo," she says.

Sherlock doesn't even take notice, but John continues to smile for the next few days.

Once upon the time, in the university days, John used to draw; picking up a fountain pen and a notepad to doodle and sketch on while he allowed his mind and body to relax after the long day of complicated studies and autopsies and just everything. Usually, he fell asleep with a pen in his hand.

One day when John is cleaning his room, he finds one of his old Moleskins. He stares at it for a long, long time, feeling an idea unfurling itself inside his chest, stretching its black wings.

John smiles and opens the notepad, looking for inspiration. All he needs now is a chance.

And he gets it soon enough. He is sitting in his armchair, eating an orange slice and solving his crossword, when Sherlock bats the newspaper and the orange away and sucks the sweet-sour juice from John's mouth.

John takes him up to the bedroom that is now theirs and spreads him out on their bed with touches and whispers, before picking up his old fountain pen and sitting on Sherlock's legs.

"What are you doing?"

John smiles. The first line of black ink glistens on the pale skin. "You tell me."

But Sherlock remains silent, breathing quietly, while John draws. It has been too long, and his hand is a bit unsure, smearing the delicate lines every now and then, but nevertheless, the effect is quite stunning. By the time he is finishing the drawing, he is flushed and shaking with arousal.

The moment John stops drawing, Sherlock is up and opening the closet doors to get to the mirror. He twists around, peering over his shoulder, and goes very still.

John recaps the pen and leans back on his elbows to admire his work. On Sherlock's pale back, there is an enormous pair of black wings, reaching all the way from his shoulders down to curve over his buttocks. In the dark golden twilight of the room with only a couple of stray sunbeams sliding through closed curtains, the wings almost seem to vibrate, alive and ready to spread.

Sherlock lifts his head, and his eyes are strangely bright.

"If there will ever be a man with wings, it will be you," John tells him in a whisper that floats around in the still air. "A couple of scars will never hold you down, Sherlock Holmes."

For the next few hours, they make love and kiss and touch and cuddle, until the sheets are smeared with thousands of grey shadows that look like feathers in John's eyes. Sherlock is pressed against his back, trailing his fingertips over John's chest, slowly and reverently, like a blind man reading poetry in Braille.

"There is a blade, sprinkled with sugar," John whispers, "and being with you is like trailing the tip of my tongue along the edge of that blade, feeling the sting, tasting the blood and the sugar at the same time." He pauses, pulling Sherlock's hand up and pressing a kiss to the knuckles. "I read that somewhere a long time ago," he murmures against the bony fingers. "It took me a long time to understand it. I love you."

"I know." John feels Sherlock's smile against his neck. "Do you like bees, John?"